Friday, March 14, 2008

Informing or Intruding?

Just short of two years ago, I used to attend a weekly book hour at the Barnes and Noble overlooking Rittenhouse Square in Center City. Given the tony address, the crowd of mothers were always finely dressed and remarkably outnumbered by the crowd of nannies who were put in charge of Philadelphia’s most exclusive, most elite, and most likely to attend an Ivy League.

I loved (and still love) how much my daughter loved the books and the storytelling. I loved watching her discover, for the first time, books that I had loved as a child myself. But, truth be told, I also loved the people watching.

For many of the children, their nannies were more of a parent to them than their biological ones. I often overheard conversations they had (the nannies all knew each other), and how they would talk about things related to health concerns, developmental milestones, and even emotional issues. These women spoke as any mother might, and the reality was, the children under their charge probably looked to these women more than their own mothers for guidance and support.

Many of us rely on daycare, nannies, and family to help out with the care of our children…that is not what I am talking about. As these nannies spoke about their days, it was clear that with the endless obligations of the parents (constant trips out of town, charity events, galas, luncheons, and so on), that these children spent very little time with the people that sired them.

There was one particular nanny, however, that kept to herself while watching over two young girls, of about one and three. She kept so much to herself, that she spent much of our story hour in the corner, reading whatever magazines had been left behind, and paying no attention to the attention starved sisters. When she did interact with these two little sweethearts, if was to admonish them for not sitting up in their chairs, not using a tissue, or having a soiled diaper. She was a miserable human being and these two little girls had the great misfortune of living under her cantankerous reign.

I felt so awful for these girls….but what could I do?

Then, it happened. I was strolling through the park with my daughter and husband one sunny Saturday afternoon, when I caught sight of the two young girls who were smiling as their mother taught them the names of different flowers in a nearby bed. This mother did not fit the typical mold of so many others. She genuinely showed interest in them, showed concern, and showed love. And I had to pause. I was elated to see the girls actually enjoying themselves, while I debated whether or not I should approach the mother and reveal the truth about the woman she hired. I measured the pros and cons of my interference. I considered possible ramifications, and possible resolutions. I went through a full debate in my mind before realizing that the family had slipped away from sight.

I still think about that missed opportunity, especially when I see some caretaker mistreating their charge. Should something be said in the interest of the child? Or is it a case of "mind your own", so long as as it wouldn't be considered criminal? I don’t know at what point it’s okay to interfere, but I do know that if I could replay that encounter again, I would have told the mother everything and I hope another mother would for me as well.

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